Title: Cradle of Ideas: (A Compendium of Speeches and Writing of Omo,
N’ Oba Erediauwa of Great Benin).
Edited by: Osarhieme Benson Osadolor
Publisher: Ibadan University Press, Ibadan Nigeria
Year of Publication: 2013
No of Pages: 600
Reviewer: Professor Eghosa Osagie
Price: Not Stated
These are, indeed, trying times for Nigeria and its constituent ethnic nationalities. Political instability threatens to rear its ugly head once again, ethnic militias and insurgencies endanger the continued existence of the country, crime and criminality have assumed crisis proportions, and the economy remains in a long- term state of underperformance.
In these circumstances, there is need for a well-researched book detailing the reasons for these manifestations of systematic failure and proposing a realistic way forward.
The book has been conveniently arranged in six parts as follows:
A. Cultural Development, Traditional Institutions and Governance.
B. Exploring the Past.
C. Vision from the Ivory Tower.
D. Education, Social Mobilization and Sport.
E. Politics, Economics and the State.
F. Media, Religion and Standard of Service.
While it is tempting to review this path-breaking publication by going from one category to the other, the danger is that the output will be excessively long and unnecessarily narrative. The preferred approach adopted is that which is essentially analytic.
This requires regrouping into fewer categories in which the world-view or ideological perspective of the revered author arc captured. These are Politics/Constitution Making, Education and Religion.
Cradle of Ideas, as the book is titled, rests on three inter-related pillars. These are tradition, intellect and wisdom. A close reading of the chapters indicates that these pillars provide a solid foundation for Cradle of Ideas, and to understand the message, the reader would have to be guided by these pillars. The Royal author, as the custodian of Benin tradition and culture, was brought up in that culture, including its laws, customs, mores and conventions of society. His knowledge of the history of Benin, spanning thousands of years and the spirituality of his people, enable him to examine modern ideas against the background of the Benin cultural experience. This fact underlies his assertions that "every culture has its own civilization" and that a major source of our problems as a nation is lack of "national ethos" due to unwillingness to accommodate aspects of our national culture in the modern Nigeria state.
The second pillar is intellect. Without a highly developed intellect, the Author would have been unable to write this book, what with the required research, application of knowledge to facilitate writing, and lucidity in literary style. Again, in this regard, the Author's background is impeccable. Starting with the then elite Government School, Benin City, proceeding to the then highly rated Government College, lbadan and rounding up at King's College, Cambridge, one of the top three Universities in the world, the Author enjoyed an enviable educational background. Moreover, his meritorious career in the Nigerian Civil Service where he rose to the apex post of Permanent Secretary endowed him with administrative and managerial skills to reign over the Benin Kingdom.
The third pillar is wisdom whose source is God. Wisdom is required to relate in a logical manner, tradition to modernity. The advocacy for tradition, according to the Author, is not a "return to the 15th Century", but a rational blend in which modernity rests on the foundation of tradition, resulting in a synthesis between the two.
This book review concentrates on the three aspects of national life referred to earlier, i.e. Education, Religion and Politics/Constitution-Making.
A careful reading of the material indicates that two methodologies were employed. These are historiography which seeks to outline the causes, effects and implications of historical events. This approach does not try to predict the impact of historical events on the future. The second methodology is that derived from Philosophy. With this approach, the writer through deductive and inductive reasoning predicts future events based on current developments. This book heavily depends on deductive reasoning to arrive at its conclusions and recommendations.
The speeches delivered at the Congregation ceremonies at the University of Ibadan during his 8-year tenure as Chancellor, detail the Author's perspectives on the role of Universities in the African setting. Two major shortcomings in the Nigerian University system are highlighted, specifically, neglect of the liberal
Arts/humanities as opposed to a mechanistic specialization in narrowly focused academic disciplines, and alienation from society. In support of these positions, we read on page 237 that "the common core of knowledge which provides the essentials to be human and civilized which the ancient universities provided through liberal arts and humanistic studies seem to be neglected."
Also, "our universities have a challenge to give a character to our university education by teaching the student not only to adapt himself in this rapidly changing world but also to be integrated into, and not be alienated from, our culture. "
In a remarkably perceptive speech to the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical College, whose establishment he facilitated as Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health, he commended the leaders for remembering with gratitude the roles played by their founding fathers -- Sir Samuel Manuwa and Professor Oritsejolomi Thomas -- in a society where the work of pioneering leaders are forgotten as soon as they leave office. The wisdom here is that continuity in governance prevents the collapse in standards we are observing today. Similarly, in line with the doctrine of building the modern on a cultural foundation, the Author advocates cooperation between modern and traditional medicine.
The speeches on Religion are probably the most critical and illuminating in
Cradle of Ideas.
The Book makes a distinction about Christianity as presented in the Holy Bible and modern practice of the religion by professing Christians. It then goes further
to assert that the most important elements of Christianity as presented in the Beatitudes and the laws of Christ concerning love of God and love of man are not
at variance with Benin tradition, laws, morality and conventions of society. Examples are the pre-eminence of God (Osanobuwa), respect for parents and elders; abhorrence of sexual immorality, lying, stealing, murder, greed; and the promotion of justice and fair play. The major point of difference is the place of Jesus Christ in religious practice. A point of interest is that at its inception, Holy Aruosa was the first Roman Catholic Church in this part of the world; indeed the first Christian Church in what is now known as Nigeria, established in the 16th Century. Oba Esigie was said to be a practising Roman Catholic, and his Edaiken
completed training as Catholic Reverend Father. A question for further research
by historians is: what led to the removal of Christ in the Aruosa Theology? Young historians literate in Portuguese, Dutch and German may have the answer to this historical curiosum.
Besides, after subjecting the current practice of Nigerian Christianity, in particular, the tendency of some preachers to subject other religions to virulent attack instead of highlighting the saving grace of that religion, the Author expresses confidence in Christianity for the salvation of the world on page 549 as
"…. I have never lost faith in the Church, and I believe that the
salvation of the world lies with the Church. There are many teachings in the Bible that Jesus Christ meant for the uplifting of mankind that the Church should bring out for daily use, and not just on Sundays."
What comes out clearly in this book is that the Author, though a traditionalist, is a far more expose theologian than many Priests who put emphasis on material things rather than priceless treasures of Divine Spirituality
Finally, the chapters on Politics and Constitution Making are of critical current relevance. More important, they have the potential of intluencing the future. It goes back to the Ogiso era as a relevant factor in the discussion of the Benin- Ife relationship, failure of Republicanism in the 12th Century and the unique historic role played by Oronmiyan. This is an area where additional research needs to be carried out.
Questions that may be asked include the following:
Do the names Uhe and Ife refer to one and the same place or to two
Was Oronmiyan one and the same personality that reigned in Benin,
Uhe/Ife and Oyo, and the founder of two dynasties, one in Benin and
the other in Oyo? While the answer to this question is in the affirmative, we require more details about this unique historical personality. What factors were responsible for the failure of Republicanism in Benin? Are these factors still at play in Nigeria today?
It is probably the proposals for constitution-making that make the book significantly relevant today. Here, we pay a debt of gratitude to our highly respected Author, the organisers of this launching ceremony and the Editor for the publication of this book at this time. To be specific, the recommendations of the book in this regards include:
· A new constitution based on the "national ethos" of the different nationality groups that makes up Nigeria;
· Provision for meaningful role for Traditional Rulers through the creation of a National House of Traditional Rulers.
· Provision for Customary Legal system;
· In view of unnecessary agony inflicted on the psyche of Nigerians by political parties, the replacement of political parties by some other institution that suits the country;
· A new political order that guarantees a sustainable social system and rapid economic development;
· Devolution of powers from the Centre to the Regions in the spirit of federalism'
· Return to a parliamentary form of government.
This book is well-researched and skillfully crafted its lucidity in no way compromises logic and advocacy; a book forthright and courageous in its beliefs, world-view, conclusion and predictions. The author comes across, not as a rigid
advocate of tradition ossified in the distant past, but as an astute thinker who bases the emergence of a stable future on the solid foundation of Nigeria's historical and cultural past.
This monumental volume deserves a place in the libraries of scholars, intellectuals, traditionalists, religious bodies and their members as well as public libraries at home and abroad.